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Bryzgalov gets breather after recent struggles

by Corey Masisak /
PITTSBURGH -- Sergei Bobrovsky will start in net Thursday night for the Philadelphia Flyers, but coach Peter Laviolette cautioned against making any predictions about his goaltender for the Bridgestone 2012 Winter Classic based on the news.

Ilya Bryzgalov, who signed a nine-year, $51 million contract in the offseason with the expectation that he would end decades of goaltending woes for the franchise, has struggled at times this season and especially of late.

"I'm only going to comment on one game here," Laviolette said Thursday after Philadelphia's morning skate at Consol Energy Center. "Don't read anything into it. I never comment on those things. We announce our goaltender on the morning of the game we are playing. That's been the policy forever here that I've gone by and we don't talk about the next game."

Bobrovsky spent most of his rookie season in 2010-11 as Philadelphia's No. 1 goaltender, but the Flyers situation in net was often calamitous during an abbreviated appearance in the 2011 Stanley Cup Playoffs. Bobrovsky started only two playoff games -- Philadelphia's first and last -- and lost both. He appeared four times in relief in two rounds.

When Bryzgalov was signed to the mega-contract, Bobrovsky was relegated to backup duties, but he has filled the role admirably. He is 7-2-1 this season in 13 appearances with a .913 save percentage and a 2.56 goals against average.

"Really sharp -- in pracitce [Bobrovsky] works hard and has looked good," Laviolette said. "The starts he has had recently have been excellent. I don't think it bothers him as much. Certainly he likes to play games and wants to play games, but he's got a tremendous work ethic off the ice and on the ice. He keeps himself extremely well-prepared."

Those numbers are almost exactly the same as Bobrovsky's work from last season, but Bryzgalov has not met expectations. He is 14-8-3, but his .890 save percentage is 40th among the 44 netminders who qualify for the League leaderboard.

The Flyers have been leaking goals of late, and Bryzgalov has allowed at least four goals in three of his past four starts, including a stinker Tuesday when he yielded five on just 16 shots.

"I don't think you need to put who's in goal into anything," Laviolette said. "The only thing that really matters is getting the two points. I think that's spread through the team here. We need to play well, and I think we've done that for the most part. I think the guys have played hard and that's why we're in the position we're in.

"I think there's ups and downs with all players in the room. This is not about a player -- it is about the group and how we've performed. Like I said, so far we've done a lot of things right to this point and it would be nice to end the year on a positive note."
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